“I leverage a lot from Indian history and Indian stories on how we can manage different problems that life throws at us,” adds Pradeep, who explores different concepts with his storytelling sessions.
His themes this year included a retelling of Ramayana and Mahabharata, along with a session on south Indian history. “South Indian history, in most CBSE and ICSE schools, are heavily north India-focused. I didn’t want to look just at dates and kings, but also the art, art appreciation, and history from a behavioural point of view — what we can use for our own lives today. If you look at Ramayana for example, sexual consent, not being greedy, envious, are all incredible themes to study,” he adds.
Sudha Umashanker, who has been a storyteller for more than a decade, focuses on mythology, not restricted to just Hindu mythology. Her stories on festivals have been a hit with children. “Many young parents are very keen for their children to know these things, but they do not have the time to teach their kids. This is true especially among people residing abroad. Many adults find this a useful tool to revisit what they have heard,” she says.
The storyteller has also been doing a series on pandemic stories of hope, tracing the origins of good Samaritans in Chennai. “Stories are one way of bringing people together. We are too divided and polarised, and there is an underlined commonality in all of these stories,” she notes.
Exploring the significance of household heritage and antique items through the prism of storytelling is Sivagamasundari. The architect and material conservator has been doing physical exhibitions on the topic under her organisation Muttram, along with Akshaya Selvaraj and Thirupurasundari. The pandemic nudged the trio to take on virtual storytelling sessions. “At times like this, when things around us are not very positive, I see these sessions as a welcome change. This is the time for people to explore what is inside their house or go to their parents or grandparents and listen to some of the interesting stories,” says Sivagamasundari, adding that she wanted to begin a conversation on material conservation. Her sessions include stories on antique items from her ancestral home, including an inkwell with a beaded jacket, a Times of Ceylon diary from 1947, Japanese invasion currency, and her great grandfather’s water filter from Burma.
These antiques translate incredibly into stories, she says, adding, “Every tiny object has a story associated with it, and we try and unearth its tale, in the hope of urging people to explore such stories in their own homes.”
The audiobook boom
The pandemic has also led to an uptick of audiobooks, which allows people to enjoy the art of storytelling while multitasking. There has been an exponential increase in the number of Tamil listeners, says Deepika Arun, language manager, Tamil, of a popular audiobook platform. “People are looking for screen-free entertainment. Screen fatigue is very real and stories seem to be giving company to a lot of people when they are alone or in quarantine. When you tell stories in your mother tongue, there is a nostalgic element attached to it, which makes the experience even more amazing,” she says. Kalki’s Ponniyin Selvan, T Janakiraman’s Moga Mul, and historical fiction such as Sandilyan’s Kadal Pura and Gokul Seshadri’s Rajakesari are some of their most consumed Tamil titles, she adds.